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A guide to effective communication: 

inclusive language in the workplace 



British Medical Association 

bma.org.uk 


British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Why is language important? 

We are committed to promoting equal rights and opportunities, supporting diversity, and 
creating an open and inclusive environment for our members, employees and stakeholders. 
The successful implementation of equality and inclusion in all aspects of our work will 
ensure that members, colleagues and staff are valued, motivated and treated fairly. It will 
allow us to respond appropriately and sensitively to an increasingly diverse society. 

As an association, an important way that we can affirm our commitment to equality and 
inclusion is through the use of inclusive language. This guide promotes good practice 
through the use of language that shows respect for, and sensitivity towards everyone. The 
choice of appropriate words makes an important contribution towards the celebration of 
diversity. As well as avoiding offence, it is about treating each other with dignity and as equal 
members of an integrated community. Language is dynamic, and terms disappear, re- 
emerge and are revised. We all need to be sensitive to changing expressions and meanings 
as they emerge. 

This guidance should be applied to all forms of communication, including conversations, 
committee papers, documents, letters, emails and the website. Anything that we 
produce reflects the association and it is vital that all our communications are free from 
discriminatory language, or what could be interpreted as discriminatory language. Using our 
values and behaviours as the foundation, inclusive language does not discriminate against 
anyone on the basis of any of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. 



What is The Equality Act 2010? 1 

The Equality Act 2010 brought together existing equalities legislation (eg Disability 
Discrimination Acts, Race Relations Acts, and Equal Pay Act). It covers the same groups 
that were protected by existing equality legislation but extends protections to groups 
not previously covered, and strengthens particular aspects of equality law. The nine 
'protected characteristics' in the Act are: 

- age 

- disability 

- gender 

- gender reassignment 

- race (this includes ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality) 

- religion or belief 

- sexual orientation 

- marriage and civil partnership 

- pregnancy and maternity 


What is discriminatory language? 

Discriminatory language includes words and phrases that: 

- reinforce stereotypes 

- reinforce derogatory labels 

- exclude certain groups of people through assumptions, eg assuming the male or 
white population is the norm 

- patronise or trivialise certain people or groups, or their experiences 

- cause discomfort or offence 


1 You can read moreaboutthe Equality Act 2010 here: www.gov.uk/guidance/equalitv-act-2010-guidance 





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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Some things to remember when considering... 

Age 

Age discrimination can be a serious barrierto younger and older people playing an equal 
part in society. Inclusive language should be sensitive to the entire age range, which is 
particularly important given the UK’s ageing population. It is good practice to avoid terms 
that may be perceived as a manifestation of ageism. Ageism is found in negative, derogatory 
or abusive language, which can be targeted towards people of any age - young and old. 

You should avoid using language that stereotypes or implies that a particular age group is 
more or less able. If you are using terms such as ‘older’ and ‘younger’ remember that these 
are relative and should be used within a clear and specific context. 

Disability 

It is important to remember that the word 'disabled’ is a description, and does not refer to 
a group of people. You should always avoid any unnecessary reference to disability, and 
avoid using insensitive and patronising descriptions or language. Do not use terminology 
that emphasises the disability rather than the person, or which equates the person with 
the ability or disability. You should also avoid using terminology and medical labels that 
reinforce stereotypes of victimhood or suffering as part of any illness, disease, disability 
or impairment. 

Only refer to a person’s disability or any specific requirements they may have where these 
are relevant. Where needed, phrase references by stating the person first and reference to 
the disability second, eg ‘a child with autism’ rather than an ‘autistic child’. Make sure that 
you are using precise and accepted terms (where possible, ask the individual). 

Gender 

The English language appears to have evolved on the assumption that the world is male. 

We refer to 'the man in the street’, or 'manning the phones’, and talk about the ‘taxman’, 
'layman’s terms', ‘as every schoolboy knows’ and so on. 

Gender neutral language avoids stereotyping people according to their sex. Although 
stereotyping can affect men adversely, women are more often affected because former 
convention was to assume that an individual of unknown gender was male, or to use male 
gendered language to cover both sexes. For example, the words ‘policeman’ and ‘stewardess’ 
are gender-specific; the corresponding gender-neutral terms are ‘police officer’ and ‘flight 
attendant’. Other gender-specific terms, such as ‘actor’ and ‘actress’, may be replaced by the 
originally male term; for example, ‘actor’ used regardless of gender. 

You should avoid references to a person's gender except where it is relevant in a discussion. 

If you don’t know for certain what gender to use when talking about a person’s loved ones, or 
if you aren't sure whether someone identifies as male or female, keep your language neutral 
until you know what terms they prefer to use. For example, use the word ‘partner’ instead of 
‘wife’ or ‘husband’, ‘parent’ instead of ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’, and ‘child’ instead of ‘son’ or ‘daughter’. 
You can also mix up the word order in common expressions, eg instead of saying, ‘men and 
women’, use ‘women and men’. 

If you do not know the marital status of a woman you should use ‘Ms’ instead of ‘Miss’. You 
should also respect a woman’s preference to be referred to using the title ‘Ms’. A new gender- 
neutral title ‘Mx’ is now being widely used by the Government and many businesses in the UK 
and should be included as a title option in any application or monitoring forms. 


An example of BM A good practice 

It is best practice to use language that avoids gender discrimination, for example, 
avoiding the term ‘chairman’. We should all use the terms ‘chair’, ‘co-chairs’ and 
deputy chair’. 




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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Gender reassignment 

Under the Equality Act 2010, a person has the protected characteristic of gender 
reassignment if they are proposing to undergo, are undergoing, or have undergone 
a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning their sex by changing 
physiological or other attributes of sex. 

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity differs 
from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is a person's internal, personal 
sense of their own gender, whether male, female or non-binary (an umbrella term fora 
person who does not identify as male or female). For transgender people, the sex they were 
assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match. 

Transsexual is an adjective to describe a person who was assigned one sex at birth, 
who is, or has implemented the personal process of gender reassignment through 
medical interventions (including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries). Unlike 
transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not 
identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. Transgender may be preferred 
by some individuals mostly because it moves away from the sensitive sexual word and 
focuses more appropriately on the chosen and expressed identity of that individual. 

Trans-inclusive language is language that acknowledges that some people identify as 
a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. It is best to ask which term 
an individual prefers. If transsexual is preferred, it is betterto use as an adjective, eg 
transsexual woman or transsexual man. 

For more information look at the Stonewall glossary of terms . 


Marriage and civil partnership 

In the UK same sex couples have been able to form a legally recognised relationship, 
known as a civil partnership, since 2005. Couples who form a civil partnership have a new 
legal status - that of a 'civil partner', where the couple gains rights and responsibilities 
similarto that of a marriage. A civil partnership ends only on a formal dissolution or 
annulment, or on the death of one of the parties. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 
2013 extends marriage to same sex couples, and couples can have a civil marriage in 
registry offices across England and Wales. In March 2014 legislation to allow same sex 
marriages was passed. 

When asking about marital status, it is better to ask about a person's relationship status, 
or about their marital/civil partnership status. It’s important that relationship status 
includes the options of being: 

- single 

- married/civil partner 

- divorced/dissolved civil partnership 

- widow/widower/surviving civil partner 


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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Pregnancy and maternity 

Gender inequality is reflected in traditional ideas about the roles of women and men. 
Though they have shifted over time, the assumptions and stereotypes that underpin 
those ideas are often deeply rooted. 

It is common to assume a woman will have children, look after them and take a break 
from paid work or work part-time to accommodate the family. If a woman is forgetful 
during pregnancy, this is often referred to as her 'baby brain’. However, such assumptions 
and stereotypes can and often do have the effect of seriously disadvantaging women. 

A large majority of people that have been pregnant or have given birth identify as women. 
We can include intersex men and transmen who may get pregnant by saying 'pregnant 
people’ instead of 'expectant mothers ’. 2 



2 Intersex is a term used to describe a person who may have the biological attributes of both sexes or whose 
biological attributes do notfit with societal assumptions about what constitutes male orfemale. Intersex people 
can identify as male, female or non-binary. 



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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Race (including ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality) 

The UK is a racially and culturally diverse place. Using inclusive language is about valuing 
others and building bridges with people from any background. Our values guide us to adapt 
according to audience and context, adding a touch of warmth where appropriate. Race is an 
area where language changes particularly quickly and what is acceptable to some may not 
be to others. No individual is just one single thing and, therefore, no one can be summarised 
with a single word. Cultures and identities are continually changing, not least because of 
the interactions they have with each other. It is best to be guided by the terms people use to 
describe themselves. 

You should only use a person’s race to identify, or describe, them if it is directly relevant to 
the point you are making. It’s important not to assume that a person’s appearance defines 
their nationality or cultural background. Avoid stereotyping and making positive or negative 
generalisations about members of a particular race, ethnic, cultural or national group. 

In the UK, BME (black and minority ethnic) or BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) is the 
terminology that is normally used to describe people of non-white descent. Terms such as 
Black British, British Muslim, South Asian British and so on are often appropriate. Difficulties 
can arise with expressions that use 'black’ in a negative way, eg 'black sheep', or 'black mark’. 

Where appropriate, it is good practice to make documents available in other languages, eg if 
a large proportion of an intended audience are not native English speakers. 


Religion or belief 

Not everyone defines their identity in terms of a religion but all human beings have beliefs 
and values. The accurate use of language in these aspects of human experience is to 
demonstrate respect for the beliefs of others. It is a simple but important mark of respect for 
others if we use language that is appropriate to them. For example, to ask a Jewish or Muslim 
person their Christian name not only makes no sense, but is also highly disrespectful of their 
beliefs. The use of the terms 'forename' or 'first name’ prevents any misunderstanding and 
acknowledges that people have different beliefs. 

You should not make assumptions about individuals based on their professed religion or 
belief system. Not all members of a religion follow the same practices and observances. 
Some of the most commonly practiced religions and beliefs in Britain are (2011 census): 

- Christianity 

- Islam 

- Hinduism 

- Sikhism 

- Judaism 

- Buddhism 

- No religion 

Further guidance on religions and the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 is provided in 
the ACAS guide Religion and belief in the workplace — some key areas. Further information 
can be found in the BBC Guide to Religion: www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions . 


An example of BMA good practice 

Religion and belief: best practice resource for arranging meetings 
An important way in which we affirm our commitment to equality and inclusion is 
by considering the implications of religion and belief as factors that may prevent 
participation in meetings, eg religious holidays. The best practice resource Religion and 
Belief: best practice resource for arranging meetings provides practical information on 
things to be considered in order to show respect for, and sensitivity towards everyone. 




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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Sexual orientation 

Sexual orientation describes an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional 
attraction to another person. Language is often used in a way that ignores the fact that a 
significant proportion of the population is not heterosexual. We need to be aware that all 
outputs, written or verbal, may be read and heard by people of differing sexual orientations. 
Therefore, language that we use must be inclusive and should not cause offence. 

Be careful not to make assumptions about people’s personal circumstances. For example, 
do not use terminology that assumes that everyone has a partner of the opposite sex. 
Always try to use the term that is preferred by the individual. The following terms are 
associated with sexual orientation: 

Bisexual 

A person who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than 
one gender. 

Gay 

A man who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards men. The preferred 
term to describe homosexual men. Also a generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality- some 
women define themselves as gay rather than lesbian. 

Heterosexual/straight 

A person who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards people of the 
opposite sex. 

Homosexual 

This might be considered a more medical term used to describe someone who has an emotional, 
romantic and/or sexual orientation towards someone of the same gender. The term 'gay' is now 
more generally used. 

Lesbian 

A woman who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards women. Some 
lesbian women prefer to be referred to as gay women. 


For more information and resources visit the Stonewall website. 


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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Quick reference guide 


Age 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... 

When defining age ranges do 
not exclude older age groups. 
Age cut-off points are one of 
the major ways in which the 
older population 
are excluded. 

Under 1,1-9, 10-19, 
20-34,35-54,55-65 

Under 16, 16-19, 20-24, 
25-29, 

30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 
50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 
70-74, 75+ 

Use the preferred term and be 
aware that language changes 
and evolves. 

The elderly 

Aged 

Old people 

Senior citizen 

Pensioner 

Older person 

Older people 

Older citizens 

Older adult 

When writing job descriptions 
and job/committee seat 
advertisements, focus on 
the skills and aptitudes 
required for the post rather 
than number of years of 
experience, 
or age. 

[XX] many years’ 
experience 

Mature 

Young 

Use words relating to the 

desired attributes of an 

applicant: 

proven experience 

adaptable 

enthusiastic person 

reliable 

good communication skills 
etc. 

When interviewing 
candidates, try to avoid asking 
questions related to age, 
instead concentrate on the 
applicants’ competencies. 

How would you feel about 
managing older/younger 
people? 

What skills do you have to 
enable you to effectively 
manage a team? 

HR has a bank of competency- 
based questions that also link 
to our values and behaviours. 






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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Disability 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... 

Avoid blanket expressions 
that refer only to the 
impairment. Make it clear 
that you are talking about a 
person. People should not be 
identified or defined in terms 
of any impairment that they 
may have. The general rule is 
put people first. 

Use adjectives, rather than 
nouns, where it is 
important to identify 
someone’s impairment. 

The disabled 

The blind 

Wheelchair-bound 

An asthmatic 

Disabled people 

People with visual 
impairments, people who are 
partially sighted 

Wheelchair user 

An asthmatic person 

Use the correct term for the 
impairment. Avoid terms that 
are now considered offensive. 

If it is necessary to refer to 
a person’s impairment or 
condition, check with the 
individual how they wish it to 
be described. 

Spastic 

Mongol 

Mentally handicapped 

Person with cerebral palsy 
Person with Down’s syndrome 
Person with learning 
difficulties 

Talk about barriers and 

solutions. 

Avoid implying that people 
with impairments are less 
fortunate, are ’suffering’, 
present a ’problem’, or require 
any special treatment. 

Special arrangements 
have been made to 

accommodate deaf 
people 

Please let the organisers 
know if you cannot use 
stairs 

Please let us know if you 
require any assistance 
to enable you to attend/ 
participate. If you would 
like to discuss your access 
requirements further, please 
contact... 

The facilities are equipped 
with loop hearing systems 

When talkingaboutthe 
facilities that we have use the 

term ’accessible’. 

Disabled parking space 
Disabled toilets 

Disabled lifts etc 

Accessible parking spaces 
Accessible toilets 

Accessible lifts etc 

Avoid any implication that a 
physical impairment implies a 
learning difficulty. 

Posing questions to 
others, eg would they like 
some coffee? Does he 
take sugar? 

Speak to the individual 
themselves, 
eg would you like some 
coffee? 

Someone with learning 
difficulties does not 
necessarily have low or high 
intelligence, or any innate 
inability to learn. It specifically 
means that they have an 
impairment that is less suited 
to normal teaching methods. 

Speaking slowly and 
assuming low intelligence 

Speak in your normal manner 
and tone 

When interviewing 
candidates, try to avoid asking 
questions related to age, 
instead concentrate on the 
applicants’ competencies. 

How would you feel about 
managing older/younger 
people? 

What skills do you have to 
enable you to effectively 
manage a team? 

HR has a bank of competency- 
based questions that also link 
to our values and behaviours. 






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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Gender 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... | 

Where you do not know and 

Dear Mr [NAME] 

Dear Ms/Mr [NAME] if you 

cannot find out the correct 

Dear Sir 

know the family name 

gender of 



a correspondent. 


Dear Sir/Madam if you don’t 



know the family name 

Where you know the first 

Dear Ms/Mr [NAME] 

Dear [FIRST NAME] [FAMILY 

name 


NAME], 

and surname, but not the 


eg Dear Chris Jones 

gender 



of the correspondent. 



On forms, ask individuals to 

Prof 

Dr 

select from a comprehensive 

Dr 

Miss 

alphabetical list of titles, and/ 

Mr 

Mr 

or leave the field blank for 

Mrs 

Mrs 

them to complete. Ideally, 

Miss 

Ms 

do not put the list into a 

Ms 

Mx 

perceived hierarchy. 

Mx 

Prof 


etc 

etc 

Avoid using he, his, him etc to 

The lecturerwill display 

Lecturers will display their 

apply to both sexes. Use he. 

his timetable on his office 

timetables on their office 

his, him, himself only when 

door 

doors 

referring specifically to a male 



person. Instead of referring to 

Each student is 

Students are responsible for 

both sexes with words such 

responsible for material 

material they borrow 

as he, him, his, use terms that 

on loan to him 


cover both, eg 's/he’, ‘she or 



he’, ’they’. 



Avoid using his or her after 

Anyone who wants his 

Anyone who wants their work 

’each’, ’someone’, ’anyone’. 

work evaluated 

evaluated 

’nobody’. 



Avoid using man to mean 

Man or mankind 

Plumanity, humans, human 

people in general. It is not 

Man-hours 

beings, people, or society 

good practice to present 

Manpower 

Work hours or staff time 

material with the disclaimer 



that all masculine nouns and 


Staff, workforce, personnel. 

pronouns are to be taken as 


workers 

referring to both females and 



male. 



Avoid using terms that may 

Girls 

The person’s name, their 

give offence to women or 

Ladies 

professional title or ’men’ and 

men. 

Dear 

’women’ 


Son 



Love 


Avoid irrelevant, gratuitous 

A female doctor 

A doctor 

gender descriptions. 

A male nurse 

A nurse 

Avoid using Miss/Mrs unless 

Miss/Mrs 

Ms-Thisterm is intended 

the individual concerned 


to parallel Mr as it does not 

expressly indicates that they 


identify marital status 

wish otherwise. 



Avoid titles that imply that 

Chairman 

Chair, chairperson 

the normal job-holder is of a 

Policeman 

Police officer 

particular gender. 

Cleaning ladies 

Cleaners 




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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Gender reassignment 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... 

Use the term trans/ 
transsexual/transgender 
as an adjective rather than 

a noun 

A transsexual 

Transsexual/transgender 
person or trans person 

When you must use a gender 
specific pronoun, use the 
term preferred by the 
individual. 

If it is not possible to ask a 
transgender person which 
pronoun is preferred, use the 
pronoun that is consistent 
with the person’s appearance 
and gender expression. 

She or her (for a trans- 
male, ie female to male) 

He or his (fora trans- 
female, ie male to female) 

He or his (for a trans-male, ie 
female to male) 

She or her (for a trans-female, 
ie male to female) 

Don’t use phases that are 
reductive and overly-simplify 
a complex subject. A person’s 
sex is determined by a 
number of factors. 

Biologically male/female 

Genetically male/female 

Born and man/woman 

Assigned male/female 
at birth 

Designated male/female 
at birth 

Be careful when describing 
the personal process of 
gender reassignment. 

Sex change/sex change 
operation 

Pre-operative 

Post-operative 

Transition 

Referring to a sex-change 
operation, or using terms 
such as pre-operative or 
post-operative inaccurately 
suggests that one must have 
surgery in order to transition. 


Marriage and civil partnership 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... 

Application forms and equal 

Asking someone’s marital 

What is your relationship 

opportunities monitoring 

status or specifying 

status? or 

forms should be amended 

marital status options: 

What is your marital/civil 

to include this new legal 

- single 

partnership status? 

relationship status. 

- married 

- divorced 

- widow/widower 

Relationship status options: 

- single 

- married/civil partner 

- divorced/dissolved 
civil partnership 

- widow/widower/surviving 
civil partner 


Pregnancy and maternity 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... 

A large majority of people that 
have been pregnant or have 
given birth identify as women. 
However, there are some 

intersex men and trans men 
who may get pregnant. 

Expectant mothers 

Pregnant people 








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British Medical Association 


A guide to effective communication: inclusive language in the workplace 


Race (including ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality) 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... j 

Use adjectives, rather than 
nouns, where it is important 
to identify someone’s race. 

The Asians etc... 

Asian students etc... 

Avoid irrelevant, gratuitous 
ethnic descriptions. 

A Chinese professor 

A professor 

It is important to always allow 
people to define themselves. 

Coloured people 
Black/Asian when 
referring to all minority 
ethnic groups 

The term preferred by the 
individual, eg Asian, Afro- 
Caribbean, Black etc 


Religion or belief 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... | 

Avoid using terms that may 

Christian name 

First name, given name. 

offend people’s religious 

Surname 

forename or personal 

sensibilities. 

Last name 

Family name (preferred term) 

Surname is not unacceptable. 
However, this word may 
originate from sire-name, 
orthe name derived from 

one’s father. 



The term 'last name’ should 

not be used as it could be 
confusing to Asian groups who 
place their family name first. 




Sexual orientation 


Helpful hints 

Instead of... 

Use... | 

Use the term preferred by 
the individual. 

The blanket term 

homosexual 

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, gay 
man, gay woman 

Use all these terms to 
describe these groups/ 
individuals 

LGB (lesbian, gay and 
bisexual) is a common 
acronym used for the 
collective term 

Use adjectives, rather than 
nouns, where it is important 
to identify someone’s 
sexual orientation. 

Lesbians, gays or 
bisexuals 

People who are lesbian, gay 
or bisexual 

Avoid assumptions about a 
person’s sexual orientation 
and using heterosexual- 
centred language. Such 
language is based on the 
belief that heterosexuality is 
the only normal, valid or moral 
basis for partnerships. 

Husband, wife and spouse 
Girlfriend or boyfriend 
Family planning clinic 

Partner or accompanying 
person (so as to not 
discriminate between 
married, unmarried or same 
sex partners) 

Partner (or term preferred by 
the individual) 

Sexual health clinic or sexual 
health and wellbeing clinic 


For further information please contact Yasemin Dil, corporate equality, diversity 
and inclusion manager, strategy and insight directorate on ydiKcjbma.org.uk 








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© British Medical Association, 2016 


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